After missing all of last season with a serious knee injury, Keven Veilleux was faced with a tough decision.
He could go back home to Quebec and spend the summer with his family, or he could stay in Wilkes-Barre and spend it with Penguins strength coach Joe Lorincz and trainer Patrick Steidle.
Veilleux chose the latter.
‚??I missed my family in the summer, but in my mind I had no choice but to stay here and get better,‚?Ě Veilleux said.
During last season‚??s training camp, Veilleux, 23, suffered a knee injury that wiped out his season. It was the second time in three years that the 2007 second round pick had a major injury force him to miss a season. But last year, the circumstances were a bit different.
Veilleux was in the final season of his three-year, entry-level deal and was coming off a 2010-11 season during which he showed a ton of promise. He was looking to build off that campaign, which resulted in 12 goals and 36 points in 66 games.
Instead, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Veilleux spent the next year on crutches, watching his teammates at every practice and wondering if he would get another shot with the organization.
The Penguins gave Veilleux another chance in July when they signed him to a one-year deal, but the big winger was already one step ahead. A few months earlier Veilleux had made the choice to remain in Wilkes-Barre, and he was already in the middle of a grueling rehab campaign that consisted of daily workouts with Lorincz.
‚??He had to make a lot of sacrifices on a daily basis,‚?Ě Lorincz said. ‚??He had to work very hard for a long time while staying motivated every day.‚?Ě
The work included weight training for four days a week, relearning is skating stride on the slideboard twice a week and, later in the summer, skating on the ice at Coal Street four times a week.
The first day Veilleux resumed skating was a milestone, Lorincz said, but one that was achieved slowly.
At first, Lorincz limited Veilleux to simply skating back and forth between the bluelines. Later, Veilleux progressed into turning, stopping and crossovers before throwing in stickhandling and light shooting.
‚??We kept whispering in his ear that it‚??s going to come back. Don‚??t get frustrated,‚?Ě Lorincz said. ‚??He went so long without skating.‚?Ě
And that‚??s why Veilleux said it wasn‚??t hard to stay motivated during summer, despite the daily grind.
‚??I didn‚??t do anything for so long while I was on crutches, and now I was able to do something,‚?Ě Veilleux said. ‚??I‚??m the type of person that needs to be doing something all the time, and when I finally got onto the ice I began to feel better every day.‚?Ě
Veilleux‚??s decision to stay in Wilkes-Barre for the summer impressed head coach John Hynes. He said the winger has a sense of humor to match his large stature, making him a well-liked teammate in the locker room and on the ice. And to give up time with his family to focus on his recovery adds to the level of respect that the team has for Veilleux, Hynes said.
‚??He made a big commitment this summer to try and get his career back on track,‚?Ě Hynes said. ‚??It‚??s helped him and he‚??s in a good situation now. He will rejoin us at some point in the near future.‚?Ě
Veilleux has participated in training camp practices but didn‚??t dress for any of the exhibition games. He doesn‚??t know when he‚??ll be ready to play again, but he does know it will be sometime this year.
And when Veilleux finally does make his successful return to the game, he owes it all to a tough choice he made at the beginning of last summer.
‚??They showed faith in me by offering me another contract, so it was only the right thing to do,‚?Ě Veilleux said.
‚??It‚??s a long process and you always worry about (the injury) a little bit, but I know I will play again this year and I can‚??t wait for it.‚?Ě